Considering (dis)ability and impairment onset within the athletic identities of high performance women paralympic athletes


The terms "double discrimination" and "double disadvantage" have been used in previous research to describe the sport context for women athletes with impairments. Being a woman and experiencing a disability are often understood as incompatible with the role of athlete. Despite increasing numbers of women competing in high level parasport, there remains a significant research gap in understanding their experiences and how doing so may contribute to greater insights and opportunities to support their involvement in sport. Purpose: The primary purpose of this investigation was to examine the athletic identities of high performance women parasport athletes. Particular attention was paid to the role of disability and impairment onset within the development of these identities and the athletes' journeys into elite parasport. Method: Using qualitative description, 10 current and former Canadian women Paralympic athletes were interviewed in combination with the Athletic Identity Measurement Scale (Brewer et al., 1993). Results: Four themes were captured following a thematic analysis of the data. These included: (a) personal sacrifice, (b) possibilities, (c) control and conflict, and d) perceptions and relevance of disability. Conclusion: The findings highlight the absence of disability in participant's self-perceptions as athletes through their commitment to sport and high performance but its' overwhelming relevance in the perceptions of outsiders. Consideration of the ways in which perceptions of disability and impairment onset impact opportunities for girls and women with impairments to gain entry into parasport, are also discussed.

Acknowledgments: Sport Science Association of Alberta